The failure of the WTO summit in Cancún opens up the prospect of social globalisation

16 September 2003

The failure of the WTO summit in Cancún opens up the prospect of social globalisation

The result of the summit was no surprise. During the last week in Cancún I have seen the contradictions between, on the one side, the G21 (the coalition of more developed developing countries) under the leadership of Brazil, and, on the other side, the European Union and United States, grow ever sharper. European Commissioner Pascal Lamy is the person who above all has had to pay for this. By attaching itself, at the Doha negotiating round, to an uncompromising demand for a radical review of farm subsidies, the EU had manoeuvred itself into an impossible position. At Cancún it turned out that the Union did not really want to follow through on this commitment.

René Roovers reports

But it would be too simple to blame the failure of this negotiating on the G21. The WTO is coming under increasing pressure throughout the world from the alternative-globalisation movement with its message that another world is possible. In Cancún a great deal was heard from this quarter about the undemocratic way in which the WTO conducts its affairs. It is, for example, far from clear, even for insiders, where proposals come from, and from whom.

On Saturday the alternative globalisation movement held a big demonstration. Earlier in the week there was a demonstration by thousands of farmers who had personally experienced the disastrous consequences of the Uruguay Round and NAFTA. The dramatic climax of this demonstration was the tragic suicide of the South Korean farmers’leader Lee Kyung Hae, who carried a placard on which was written “WTO kills farmers”.

The trade unions, consumer associations, farmers organisations and fair trade groups have during this week made it clear that their opposition will go beyond simple slogans. On the contrary, they are coming up with ever more foundation stones which must lead to alternatives to the dominant neoliberal world order.

This in turn raises the question as to just what our alternative is and what are the driving forces which will bring it about, a question which in the coming months will be increasingly posed. Little can be expected from the G21 countries, which together form an opportunistic coalition with a wide range of interests in relation to agriculture (especially cotton), industry and services. Their overriding goal is to force the US and EU to adhere to the rules which they impose on developing countries. As for the question of whether the radical liberalisation of world trade should be an end in itself or the means to an end, there are within the G21 wide differences of opinion.

The international forum of parliamentarians from left parties which also took place in Cancún during the week offered a number of starting points for the development of alternatives. This forum, where representatives of every continent were present, adopted a declaration in which the reduction of the gap between rich and poor was central. On the basis of lectures and discussions a final declaration laying out ten or so demands was drawn up. The most important demand was for the establishment of the right of countries to pursue independent social and economic policies, specifically in relation to agriculture, the provision of food, and industry. In addition the declaration called for export subsidies, the effects of which developing countries are invariably the victims, to be abolished.

The declaration further called for the strengthening of the public sector in both developing and developed countries, and laid down a number of concrete demands, especially in relation to access to health care and medicine. Patents on life forms should be ended. Workers’ rights, as enumerated in the ILO convention, should be unconditionally respected.

As for the realisation of these demands, the parliamentarians present emphasised the necessity of looking outside their political parties and towards closer forms of cooperation with social organisations.

Walden Bello said in Cancún that “global civil society” was the most important opponent of the neoliberal world order imposed on other countries by the US and the EU. By this he meant farmers’ organisations, trade unions and other sectors who throughout the world have offered resistance to this neoliberal world order. Whether that resistance will eventually succeed in developing alternatives which take their lead from the interests of people in poor countries as well as rich ones also depends on cooperation between social movements and left political parties. In such a framework it is our task at the European Social Forum that takes place in Paris mid-November, to take another step forward.

René Roovers is a member of the European Parliamentary staff of the Socialist Party of the Netherlands.

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